ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has predicted the 2016 election will be rigged, through outright voter fraud and in a more general fashion via media collusion with the Clinton campaign.
Trump's comments had drawn widespread criticism from many quarters, including President Obama and Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan.
And, on a practical level, rigging an election in this day and age would be virtually impossible according to Minnesota's preeminent voting operations expert, Ramsey County elections director Joe Mansky.
It begins with the decentralized nature of conducting elections in Minnesota and other states. There are 4,200 polling places in Minnesota alone.
"Most of the responsibilities for conducting elections are not as the state level, they’re actually at the county and municipal level," Mansky explained. "For the purpose of opening polling places, recruiting elections judges, those decisions are made by over 2,500 different places statewide."
Any discrepancies or irregularities can be traced because paper ballots, ballot tallies, elections rosters and other materials are stored as a backup.
"You can trust me. You can trust my staff. But you don’t have to. Everything we are doing here is independently verifiable," Mansky said.
Sheriff's deputies guard the ballots as they arrived on Election Night, and all of the paperwork is kept under lock and key and guarded until the results are certified by the canvassing board days after the election.
"The official result is actually on paper. The results transmitted to the Secretary of State's Office are for your benefit, to give you something to broadcast to the public at 10:00 at night, but those numbers are actually unofficial."
Mansky has run the elections in Ramsey County and many of its cities, including St. Paul, since 2002. He also worked for the Secretary of State's elections office from 1984 to 1999.
The voting machinery is becoming increasingly hack proof as well, and Mansky's office since 2012 has taken the added measure of making sure the ballot scanners aren't part of a network.
"The only way for us to get the results back to them, is for our head judges to physically carry them back here to the central office," Mansky said.
"It deliberately has no communications capability, so if you’re sitting in Moscow with a computer there’s no way to communicate with either our ballot counters or the computers we use to compile the results."
Minnesota didn't stop with the New England tradition of having election judges of from both major parties supervising polling places and sign off on the results. The state insisted on keeping paper ballots for recounts.
"People that have nothing to do with the election can come in afterwards, look at our materials and determine definitively what the result of the election was, that the election was conducted fairly, honestly and efficiently," Mansky asserted.
"We wanted make sure that in close elections that we, the candidates and their attorneys could see every ballot, and if you think about how the recounts happened in 2008 and 2010, that’s exactly what happened."
And while those epic recounts, in the 2008 Senate race and 2010 Governor's race, were turbulent legally and politically, they lent credence to the integrity of Minnesota's system. The hand recount of millions of paper ballots was within a few hundred votes of the machine counts reported by the state's 4,130 precincts.
Safeguards against voter fraud
Republicans have long argued that voter fraud is underreported, and that's part of the justification for enacting Voter ID laws, requiring current photo identification at polling places.
But documented cases of voter fraud are extremely rare in the modern era of elections, due in large part to data cross checks among government agencies.
Minnesota's largest election laws violations in recent history came in 2008 when dozens of felony offenders were convicted of voting while still on probation, which is a felony under state law. They used their real names and ID, but weren't eligible to vote yet.
"We’re getting reports from both our state and county officers on who’s been convicted of felonies, so we know who is ineligible," Mansky said.
"Just 10 days ago we made a mailing to our 2,500 convicted felons who live here in Ramsey county and once again reminded them we know who they are and where they live, and we wanted to remind them that it’s against the law for them to vote."
Incidents of double voting are even more rare -- two cases in the past 10 years as a result of miscommunication.
Mansky staff also takes safeguards to clear the voting rolls of deceased persons.
"In the months preceding every election we’re taking information from our county and state departments on recent deaths. We also check the two newspapers' obituary pages every week."
He said it's no accident so many safeguards were built into Minnesota's voting system from the beginning.
"Our system is very secure and it’s not by chance," Mansky remarked, noting that Minnesota's Constitution was written in the turbulent years leading up to the Civil War. "The idea of us conducting elections when there’s a lot of controversy, that’s what our system was designed to do."